Rape, Deception, or Racism?

JERUSALEM – “It was consensual, I owe an apology to no one other than my wife and two children. They’re the ones who’ve suffered from this. And myself.”

Sabbar Kashur, 30, is a Palestinian Arab resident of the Shuafat neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. He’s just been convicted by an Israeli court of “rape by deception” and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Is the judgment right for the protection of women, or is it plain racism? That’s a question gripping Israelis.

It was a single chance encounter. A fateful encounter.

According to Kashur, around midday one day back in September 2008, he’d just stepped out from a store in downtown Jerusalem where he’d bought cigarettes, when a woman in her late 20s began to engage him in conversation. She said she was interested in his scooter (he used to be a delivery man of legal documents).

The pair went to a nearby building and had hasty sex on the roof.

When the woman (whom he says called herself “Maya”) somehow found out Kashur was not a Jew but an Arab, she filed a complaint with the police. The court was told that Kashur presented himself as a Jewish bachelor looking for a serious romantic relationship.

Kashur had been initially charged with rape and indecent assault. As part of a plea bargain, that was changed to “rape by deception.”

Kashur maintains that although he told her he was a bachelor, he never said he was Jewish. “We talked. I didn’t pretend. I said my name is Dudu [a regular Jewish Israeli nickname] because that’s how everybody knows me. Even my wife calls me that,” he told the liberal Israeli paper Ha’aretz, which broke the story prominently.

The 15-minute encounter “has ruined by life,” Kashour told Israeli Channel Two from his home in East Jerusalem, where he’s been confined for the past year-and-a-half, an electronic cuff tagged to his ankle.

The woman has not been identified and has not gone public with her account.

“Any person in my shoes would have done the same thing,” he told the Observer newspaper.

Like many Palestinians in Jerusalem, when interacting with Israelis Kashur goes by a common Israeli name. He speaks fluent Hebrew.

Deputy President of the Jerusalem District Court Zvi Segal, backed by two fellow judges, wrote in their verdict that although this wasn’t “a classical rape by force,” and that the sex was consensual, consent had been obtained through deception and under false pretenses.

“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” Segal added, declaring the court has to protect the public “from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls.”

Lawyers for Kashur are appealing to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The Kashur case is built on a precedent.

Two years ago, the High Court rejected an appeal on a rape conviction by a man who impersonated a senior civil servant and told several women he would help them acquire a government-built apartment and increased national security allowances if they’d sleep with him.

The court ruled that it was rape “if a man does not tell the truth regarding critical matters, and as a result of such misrepresentation, a woman has sexual relations with him.”

In the past, men who misrepresented themselves in this way would be convicted of fraud.

Fraud but not rape is the way most Israelis judge the Kashur case. The consensus view is, deception is one thing – but rape?

This view is endorsed by the public defender’s office. One official told IPS, “The district court had gone too far, opening the door to a rape conviction every time a person lies about aspects of his identity.”

But Dana Pugach, head of the Noga Center for Victims of Crime, told Ha’aretz she thought the verdict was appropriate: “We all have different qualities; it’s a person’s right to have sexual relations with another person knowing the facts about his qualities. I see no difference between impersonating a Jew if you’re an Arab, or saying you’re a well-to-do pilot when you’re penniless.”

Commentator Gideon Levy tackles the racism charge head-on: “Sabbar Kashur impersonated a human being. He wanted to be a person, a person like everybody else.”

As luck would have it, he was born Palestinian.

“I’d raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not. The verdict has the whiff of racial purity, of ‘don’t touch our daughters,'” Levy concluded in his Ha’aretz column.

In his interviews, Kashur has revealed how he inadvertently allowed the police to trace him.

After the encounter, he tapped the cell number of “Maya” into his phone. A month passed and he was thumbing through his phone address book. He saw the name “Maya.” “I thought to myself, ‘Who’s Maya?’ I rang the number to see who it was. I realized it was the girl. I said, ‘Can I see you?'”

Three days later Kashur received a call from the police.

His lawyers say that, because of the publicity, the appeal may be expedited. In the meantime, says Kashur in the Observer interview, “I can’t leave the house, I can’t work, I can’t feed my children.”

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler write for Inter Press Service.